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Whither Belgium?

Via Harry’s Place, a piece at the Z-Word blog examining centrifugal nationalist forces in Belgium. Quoting Ian Buruma:

“Belgium is in danger of falling apart. For more than six months, the country has been unable to form a government that is able to unite the French-speaking Walloons (32%) and Dutch-speaking Flemish (58%). The Belgian monarch is desperately trying to stop his subjects from breaking up the state.”

More interesting than the potential split-up of Belgium, however, are the insights they have about how “pan-European post-nationalism” has possibly had the unintended effect of promoting ethnic separatism:

Buruma argues that during the 18th and 19th centuries, when nation-states were formed, cultural, linguistic and national differences were frequently transcended in order to promote “common interests.” That was as true of Britain and Italy as it was of Belgium.

The EU has changed all that. As Buruma puts it, using another example of nationalist revival in supposedly post-national Europe, “[W]hy rely on London, say the Scots, if Brussels offers greater advantages?”

The Scottish example is one that I’ve been aware of for awhile now, but I’d never quite thought of it in the context of European unity. Whether or not it (and other cases, like Belgium) are really unintended byproducts of the EU I can’t say for certain. I’m sure there are those out there who are more informed than I am on the issue who might be able to offer some insight into the dynamics at play. That being said, it makes a certain amount of sense, at least superficially.

Finally, the author uses the case of Belgium as comparison for the situation in Israel/Palestine:

Whether or not Belgium actually breaks up, the current strife there will have demonstrated beyond doubt that the notion of a “post-national” Europe is wishful thinking. Yet many advocates of the single-state “solution” in Israel and Palestine base their thinking on precisely this premise.

Belgium is held up as the inspiration for a one-state solution in the Middle East at precisely the time when significant numbers of Flemish and Walloons are militating for a two-state solution in their own domain.

It is here, I think, that the argument gets simultaneously stronger and more far-fetched. On the one hand, the situation in Belgium versus what’s happening in Israel are extremely dissimilar — Belgium has historically been a pretty peaceful sort of place and the forces that seem to be jeopardizing its existence are rooted in economics that happen to be correlated to ethnicity (Wallonia is much poorer than Flanders), whereas the Israel/Palestine conflict, while undeniably posessing an economic element, carries with it the burden of religion, decades of bloodshed, a sense among Palestinians that their land was taken from them, and the prevalence of violent, hard-line parties on both sides, none of which are all that prevalent in Belgian politics, from what I can tell.

On the other hand, I think all of these extreme dissimilarities actually strengthen the argument that Belgium serves as a useful “canary in the coal mine” for any potential unified state comprised of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Given that I think few would deny that the Walloons and the Flemish probably have more in common with one another than Israelis and Palestinians, it’s hard to see how the “one-state solution” could have any chance of succeeding.

If Belgium is as on the rocks as it’s made out to be (and I have my doubts, personally), it’s hard to see how a united Israel/Palestine could hold itself together, given that the situation there is on the order of magnitudes more extreme than anything we’ve witnessed in Brussels.

  1. Timothy says:

    How do you make a Belgian waffle?

    Ask him if he’s French.

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